“Black-ish” Addresses Police Brutality


In ‘Hope,’ the ABC sitcom tackles the multifaceted conversation around police brutality with wit, warmth and a much-needed dose of realism.

Black-ish has consistently shown that it isn’t afraid to tackle social issues. The Season Two premiere was about the casual use of the N-word and Season One featured episodes devoted to everything from black Republicans to corporal punishment. The show prides itself on presenting a more-nuanced-than-you’d-expect take on the concerns and quirks of black culture, so it makes perfect sense that it would tackle the current outrage over high-profile killings of black people by police. “The police are shooting people with no arms—why am I just now hearing about this?” exclaims a stunned Jack as the family struggles with how to explain to its youngest members what’s going on—and to help Jack understand what “unarmed” means.

In “Hope,” the Johnsons are glued to the screen on a family night, tensely watching and waiting for a grand jury’s ruling on a fictionalized (but just real enough) killing of an unarmed black man by a police officer. This man was tazed 37 times while sellingTrainwreck and Chi-raq DVDs, a setup for a hilarious Spike Lee dig (“Chi-raq is clearly the reason the boy was tazed—horrible movie,” exclaims Ruby.)

When Zoe confuses the details of the case, the rest of the family tries to explain exactlywhich unarmed black guy was killed this time: “No, Charleston was the unarmed guy who got shot in the back. Cincy was the traffic stop,” Junior clarifies. It sets up the rest of the episode nicely, conveying Zoe’s flippancy and the frequency of these killings—the kind of frequency that would eventually contribute to teenage apathy.

One of black-ish‘s most consistent strengths is its ability to weave in topicality without treading too close to treacly “Very Special Episode”-style preachiness, but even more significant is the way the show juggles multiple angles on a particular subject. Several facets of the cultural conversation about police brutality play out while the Johnson family discusses the night’s news and tries to decide what to order for take-out. At the center is the conflict between Bow and Dre, born of Bow’s desire to not turn her kids against the system at such a young age and Dre’s belief that black children can’t afford to be ignorant about the racist world in which they live.

The rest of the family deals with the news in their own way. Ruby prepares for impending riots (“I got nails and two-by-fours to secure the entrances!”) as Junior develops a Ta-Nehisi Coates fixation, quoting the famed author’s work—much to Dre’s frustration. (“Where’s CNN when I’m saying that stuff!”) Meanwhile, Zoe barely seems to care, fixated on texting her friends and keeping the twins away from a P.F. Chang’s menu.

In what turns out to be a funny and honest take on a subject that has divided so much of the country, “Hope” channels both optimism (though Rainbow) and hard reality (Andre), the righteousness of newly-illuminated youth (Junior) and the common criticism that millennials are supposedly too distracted and shallow to care about the ills of society (Zoe). Little Jack and Diane symbolize youngsters whose perspectives adults often don’t want to taint, but who also could be at risk of becoming victims of the very racism their parents so adamantly hide from them.

“I don’t want to feel like my kids are living in a world that is so flawed that they can’t have any hope,” Bow says after Dre explains that “the system is rigged against us.”

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Daily Beast